Broncos fans aren't patient with poor quarterback play, and especially won't be this year after Pro Bowler Jay Cutler was shipped to Chicago over the offseason, but they have little choice. Coach Josh McDaniels isn't opening the quarterback job back up to competition yet.
"He made a few mistakes tonight but I haven't lost faith in him and neither have our players," McDaniels said.
Orton started the game well, completing six of his first seven passes as he marched the Broncos downfield on their first drive. He was in a comfort zone, not being asked to air out deep passes but completing short balls to open receivers to keep the chains moving.
Orton threw two poor interceptions his next two times out, one of which was returned to Denver's 3-yard line.
"Just had a couple bad decisions," Orton said. "One time was a miscommunication. Certainly can't make those decisions."
Chris Simms came on at quarterback in the second half and immediately led the Broncos to a touchdown after the starting offense was shut out, which will lead to more shouting about making a change at quarterback. Simms threw a second touchdown late in the game and led Denver to 16 second-half points. However, he backed Orton, saying he didn't think Orton struggled.
Orton gets a few more chances before the Broncos start the season, and he isn't worried yet.
"I've got a lot of confidence in myself and I think my team has a lot of confidence in me," Orton said. "I'm going to keep plugging away."
McDaniels wouldn't even address the possibility of a quarterback controversy. He picked Orton as his starter in June and will give him every chance to succeed.
"We're not going to go into this thing after the first preseason game, tail-spinning into this or that, and make knee-jerk reactions," McDaniels said.
There will be plenty of shuffling on defense before the regular-season opener, as the Denver Broncos' coaching staff figures out what they have.
The most dramatic move was with linebacker Mario Haggan. A 4-3 middle linebacker last year with Denver, and mostly a special-teams contributor for his NFL career, Haggan was moved from third team to a starter at left outside linebacker before Denver's preseason opener. He passed Darrell Reid and Tim Crowder on the depth chart.
"We're all fighting for an opportunity to play," Haggan said.
The move showed how fluid the battles are at outside linebacker. Reid was ahead of Crowder, but Crowder had been cutting into his first-team reps. At right outside linebacker, Elvis Dumervil has been holding off first-round pick Robert Ayers. Dumervil has taken nicely to the switch from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
The moves worked pretty well for the Broncos in the first preseason game. They allowed a field goal on their first drive, then forced two punts. The lone touchdown the starters gave up was on a three-yard drive after Kyle Orton's third interception.
Denver had four sacks, looked decent against the run and appeared headed in a decent direction.
The team is learning new coordinator Mike Nolan's 3-4 scheme, which everyone has said is a work in progress. One badly busted coverage led to a long touchdown catch by 49ers fullback Brit Miller. Overall, Denver looked pretty comfortable with the scheme. The Broncos swarmed to the ball well but need to be a bit tighter in coverage after allowing San Francisco quarterbacks to complete 14 of 18 passes, but many of those were short gains.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Broncos' camp ends on Aug. 20, three weeks after the team's first full-squad workout.
NOTES, QUOTES --Rookie Knowshon Moreno gave the Broncos a scare when he limped to the locker room after less than a quarter of work in his preseason debut, but he only sprained an MCL. He should be back before the regular-season opener.
--Head coach Josh McDaniels doesn't run a light training camp and didn't take his first preseason game lightly. Almost all of Denver's starters played the entire first half against the 49ers, which is a big departure from Mike Shanahan's plan of playing the starters for one series in the preseason opener.
McDaniels also wants to get his rookies up to speed, so they'll see plenty of action this month.
"All our rookies and all our young kids need to play a lot," McDaniels said.
--The Broncos are having light hazing of the rookies during camp. The latest prank was funny haircuts. The veterans chose what look the rookies would get, which included some random bald spots or stripes from front to back. Quarterback Tom Brandstater got just the top of his head shaved clean. That was better than the threat of having his eyebrows taken off if he didn't consent to the haircut.
"I'll save my eyebrows," Brandstater said.
--Cornerback Champ Bailey has looked good in camp, making a few athletic interceptions. He is coming off an injury-filled season but at age 31, looks as good as ever. "I feel pretty good," Bailey said. "Feel real fresh."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm sure you guys will write a lot of articles and talk about it on talk radio and everything else, but it's not going to change me one bit." -- Broncos backup quarterback Chris Simms on a possible quarterback controversy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos waived/injured RB Ryan Torain, who suffered a minor knee injury in camp. Torain has had no luck with injuries the past two years. He looked promising last year but an elbow injury in camp cost him a few months and then he tore his ACL shortly after returning.
The Broncos replaced him with RB Marcus Thomas, a fifth-round pick of the Chargers last year who spent time with three other teams.
--DE J'Vonne Parker went on injured reserve with a knee injury. That cuts into Denver's depth on the line.
--WR Chad Jackson started the preseason opener as the fourth receiver in a four-receiver set on the first play of the game.
--RB Peyton Hillis rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries against San Francisco. He was the tailback for most of the second half.
--LB Spencer Larsen, a second teamer at inside linebacker, led the Broncos with six tackles against the 49ers, including one for loss. He also played fullback.
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